I have been coding and managing digital projects for the last 15 years, and this has already been through a number of evolutions, revolutions and complete paradigm shifts. Just listing a few areas to try to illustrate were I’m going here:
Source Control Management (SCM): aka CVS , Perforce, and ClearCase back in the days. Subversion had some glorious days, but over the pas few years the crowd has moved to GIT, made popular and ubiquitous by the amazing code sharing platform Github. Git is a free and open source distributed version control system designed to handle everything from small to very large projects with speed and efficiency. It is easy to learn and has a tiny footprint with lightning fast performance. It outclasses other SCM tools with features like cheap local branching, convenient staging areas, and multiple workflows. It’s best suitable for distributed teams working in a peer to peer context and it is certainly the SCM of the decade, you can’t avoid it, even if you’ll keep an eye on emerging competitors like Mercurial.
Open-Source Software: Long gone are the days when you’d pay for closed source software without a blink, with the double risk of getting ripped off with ongoing maintenance costs, and being locked into a technological dead end. Web technologies are experiencing a sort of Cambrian explosion on an incredibly short timespan. People try before they buy, they want to access source code to customise it and suit their specific requirements, share it with business partners to encourage interoperability. As a customer today you will happily pay for a service and a subscription rather than for the codebase, you will pay for advanced features and integration rather than for the core functionality. It is on the ground of such a need for interoperability and agility that the open-source model has grown and become mature including in the Enterprise Arena. It is true in all compartments: Operating systems with Linux distributions such as RedHat and CentOS, databases with MySQL and PostgreSQL, server-side languages such as Ruby, Java and PHP, content management frameworks such as Drupal or Alfresco, and it is just the beginning. “Start free and scale up with service and features” is the new motto in the global era, and far from just “open” and “free”, Open Source is a true guarantee for stability, security, interoperability, enterprise grade.
Dependency management: Along the lines of interoperability, we see a growing number of technologies built on top of large aggregations and third party dependencies, and this leads to an increasing interest in managing software packages, bundles, plug-ins, add-ons, … An iconic example in the CMS arena is WordPress which proposes the most comprehensive library of 3rd party plugins to address various needs and features, from simple contact form handling to broad scale e-commerce. At a lower level, this translates into component libraries for web applications frameworks such as Symfony (PHP best managed with Composer for instance) and Rails (Ruby best managed with Bundler), and down to languages themselves, with Pear and PECL repositories for PHP, and Rubygems for Ruby. This is now even investing the field of deployment automation with platforms like Capistrano, Vagrant and Chef.
APIs and web services: Going hand in hand with the MVC revolution, the emergence and silent multiplication of web services and public APIs (Application programming interface) on the web is staggering when you consider it: There’s a crowd of agents and open endpoints out there just waiting for you as a developer to leverage them and unleash their power within your application. Programmableweb maintains a directory of 11,000+ APIs, and they are not alone (here and here for instance). All world-class service providers offer their own, such as Google. APIs are driven by a set of specific technologies, making them easily understood by developers. This type of focus means that APIs can work with any common programming language, with the most popular approaches to delivering web APIs being SOAP and REST. REST with JSON has become the favorite of developers and API owners, because it is easier to both deploy and consume than other implementations. Even though REST + JSON is not a standard, it is now seeing the widest acceptance across the industry. Again, interoperability is the key driver here, and it is important to make sure your applications can consumer 3rd party web services, and expose new specific ones in the most robust manner. Online providers event specialise in the brokering of web APIs, like for instance Zapier, ElasticIO and Talend.
Virtualisation: I can’t really remember the last time I had to play with a real physical server on which I installed Windows or Linux to create a web hosting environment: It was probably more than 10 years ago, on a super expensive and rackable Dell pizza box. Since then, all my web hosting providers have been offering virtualised environments on mutualised hardware, and this has grown to a super massive scale lately with a pack of providers led by Amazon and including Rackspace, Digital Ocean, Brightbox and many others. As I write these lines, I have 4 different systems running on my Mac, for development and productivity purposes, courtesy of Vmware Fusion or Oracle Virtual Box: Beyons Mac OS X 10.9 as a main host, I have Windows 8.1 and 2 server flavours of Linux (CentOS 6 and Ubuntu 12). Virtualisation means versatility and cost efficiency, since anyone can now run a fully fledged web server from home for just a fistful of dollars.
Cloud and web-scale IT: Cloud has been a buzz word since a few years now, but we are still hardly realising what it means in terms of volume, scale and commoditisation. Amazon has been pioneering this space and still largely leads it, allowing individual and businesses to fire up dozens of virtual servers and and run web apps anywhere in the world in just minutes, for competitive monthly charges based on consumption. What it really means is that IT infrastructure is not anymore the realm of super specialised engineers and techs, it is now almost completely commoditised, and we enter the age of what is called “Infrastructure as code”, where any mid weight dev-ops can fire up a world class architecture of undress of servers by simply running a shell script of a few lines: Literally scary! New contenders in this market of IT automation and web-scale IT are Ansible, PuppetLabs, Docker and Chef for instance. And these guys are going to take the industry by storm over the next 2-3 years.
User Experience Optimisation: Last but not least, as the years 2000’s have been the decade of CMS, the current period is undoubtedly focused on better managing user experiences online, and that’s achieved through a variety of means, including HTML5 rich and device agnostic user interfaces, personalised and interactive content. But at the end of the day, this is only possible through an extremely granular monitoring of performance, instant capture of exceptions and errors, and fine grained analytics. Google is still a heavyweight in that space, and enterprise content management systems battle fiercely to stay visionary leaders (Sitecore Customer Engagement Platform, Adobe Experience Manager, SDL Tridion, …) However, from a developer perspective there are huge opportunities to create value in that space, through server side and client side monitoring of web apps. And a significant number of startups have invested that space, such as NewRelic, Sentry, FuelDeck. These are essential components to deliver optimised online experiences.
Next to Part 2 – Getting the MAC workstation ready